Archives For Social Darwinism

There is a plethora of material about Darwinian evolutionary theory.

Working up along the path of its reception in history, one could spend a lifetime venturing down the lane ways that exhibit them. There are a ton of mixed responses that eventually materialised in cementing of a fictitious dichotomy between creation vs. evolution in the famous Scopes Trial, in 1925.

The fallout from this is still having an impact on the dialogue between science and faith today.

Prior to 1925, not all evolutionary theorists agreed on the same interpretation and a lot of institutions experienced factional groupings. This included the Church. Though there were those who disagree, a large amount of clergy and theologians originally had no problem with Darwin’s theory, some even welcomed it.

Many of the clergy were lay scientists, intrigued by natural history, and the discoveries being unravelled, as man sought to conquer, mountain, monster and myth.

The fracturing between church and science, seems to have become more evident after Darwin’s publication of the ‘Decent of Man’ in 1871. The book most attributed to the birth of Social Darwinism, which, with the help of Thomas Huxley, who did his best to push Christianity out of the academy, grew into a grotesque totalitarian scientism, endorsed by one of Darwin’s most enthusiastic supporters, German, Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919).

The outcomes of this fracturing are best explained by the experience of Vernon Kellogg, an American evolutionary biologist, who, prior to America’s involvement in World War One, was sent to Belgium to assist in providing humanitarian relief. In 1917, he noted that Social Darwinism was the celebrated ideology of the German high command. Unknown to him at the time, Kellogg had been given a front row seat to the future:

‘One by one any German would give up, in all matters in which he acted as a part of the German administration, all of the thinking, all of the feeling, all of the conscience which might be characteristic of him as an individual, a free man, a separate soul made sacred by the touch of the Creator.
And he did this to accept the control and standards of an impersonal, intangible, inhuman, great cold fabric made of logic and casuistry and utter, utter cruelty, called the State — or often, for purposes of deception, the Fatherland.

Kellogg continues:

Well, I say it dispassionately but with conviction: if I understand theirs, it is a point of view that will never allow any land or people controlled by it to exist peacefully by the side of a people governed by our point of view.
For their point of view does not permit of a live-and-let-live kind of carrying on. It is a point of view that justifies itself by a whole-hearted acceptance of the worst of Neo (social) Darwinism, the omnipotence of natural selection applied rigorously to human life and society and culture.
The creed of the All-macht (omnipotent power) of natural selection based on violent and fatal competitive struggle is the gospel of the German intellectuals; all else is illusion and anathema.

Worth noting, the very foundations for National Socialist ideology was conceived long before Nazism was even a word:

The assumption among them is that the Germans are the chosen race (the Ubermensch), and German social and political organisation the chosen type of human community life, and you have a wall of logic and conviction that you can break your head against but can never shatter – by headwork.You long for the muscles of Samson…
Here the pale ascetic intellectual and the burly, red-faced butcher meet on common ground here. And they wonder why the world comes together to resist this philosophy – and this butcher- to the death! [i]

Scientism is defined as an ‘exaggerated trust in the efficacy of  science‘ (Merriam-Webster). Kellogg’s experience, and horror at what he saw, led him to make an assessment on the impact of scientism. This pushed him beyond pacifism, becoming an advocate for just resistance against such views.

Sensing the necessity for it, in 1924 Kellogg wrote an essay entitled ‘The Modern View of Evolution‘. In it he took the opportunity to distance ‘Darwinian Evolutionary Theory’ from ‘Social Darwinism’. The former a scientific endeavour. The latter a religion built on evolutionary ethics and viciously applied to every aspect of life by its new priests and followers.

The 19th Century’s quest to conquer mountain, monster and myth, now included God. Leading Nietzsche to famously, and rather presumptuously, proclaim that God is dead.

Scientific inquiry was spurred on by the higher criticisms (such as historical criticism) birthed in the 18th Century. It was open season and everything was fair game.

This pushed the line of suspicion and criticism against the Biblical texts, opening up a feeding frenzy on the Church and centuries of Christian faith, practice and thought.

These criticisms, however, ended up only acting as a necessary purifier – a necessary shaking of the foundations that even opened up room within the Church to push back against the extremes of neo-Protestantism (liberal theology – denial of miracles/resurrection et.al) and the inhumane threat of Social Darwinism.

The general view here is that the criticisms functioned as kind of back-to-basics qualifier which consequently only empowered Christianity by reviewing its role and claim in the world.

They were seen to be buttressing facts about Christian faith, practice and thought.  As a result Christianity, albeit somewhat weathered and shaken, could stand up well against future scientific criticisms and modern heresy. I wouldn’t venture as far to suggest that in this period of history Christianity went through a scientific-enlightenment, a baptism-of-fire, but it certainly carries that image well.

In large part scientific inquiry does seem to have buttressed Christian faith and thought. For instance: it opened up questions regarding the historical dating of the biblical text, only to confirm more than it might have otherwise refuted.

This is echoed in one of Darwin’s youngest colleagues, George John Romanes’ and his posthumous work: ‘Thoughts on Religion’, 1904.

‘Prior to the new [Biblical] science, there was really no rational basis in thoughtful minds, either for the date of any one of the New Testament books, or, consequently, for the historical truth of any one of the events narrated in them…
…but now this kind of scepticism has been rendered obsolete, and forever impossible; while the certainty of enough of St.Paul’s writings for the practical purpose of displaying the belief of the apostles has been established, as well as the certainty of the publication of the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark & Luke) within the first century’[ii].

Out of interest here is Romanes, himself an evolutionary biologist, positing on the benefits:

‘It is a general, if not a universal, rule that those who reject Christianity with contempt are those who care not for religion of any kind. ‘Depart from us’ has always the sentiment of such.
On the other hand, those in whom the religious sentiment is intact, but who have rejected Christianity on intellectual grounds, still almost deify Christ. These facts are remarkable.George_John_Romanes_wiki
If we estimate the greatness of a man by the influence which he has exerted on mankind, there can be no question, even from the secular point of view, that Christ is much the greatest man who has ever lived.
It is on all sides worth considering that the revolution effected by Christianity in human life is immeasurable and unparalleled by any other movement in history; though most nearly approached by that of the Jewish religion, of which, however, it is a development, so that it may be regarded as a piece with it.
Christianity thus is immeasurably in advance of all other religions. It is no less so of every other system of thought that has ever been promulgated in regard to all that is moral and spiritual.
Whether it be true of false, it is certain that neither philosophy, science nor poetry has ever produced results in thought, conduct, or beauty in any degree to be compared with it.’[ii]

Romanes along with Vernon Kellogg, are not in line with Social Darwinian ethics, watered down theology or any universal application of science. Such as, seeking to apply a totalitarian scientism to the sociopolitical arena; deliberately seeking to disinherit Judeo-Christian theology from its rightful place in the academy, as a necessary and serious critique of everything that surrounds us or seeks to consume us.

Jesus Christ and those He represents are a continual bulwark against Social Darwinism’s Übermensch fascism, Marxism’s socialist atheist police State and Islamist expansionism.

To be so convinced that true reality (or freedom) is existence without the One who birthed that existence, is to give in to an arrogance which rejects God’s grace, and chains humanity to the Dark agenda of total extinction.

Kellogg and Romanes critiqued extremes. At the same time they present us with documents that serve to fund a project of objective analysis that seeks to extinguish the unnecessary and manufactured “war” between science and the Christian faith.


References:

[i]   Kellogg, V.L. 1917 Headquarters Nights: A Record of Conversations and Experiences at the Headquarters of the German Army in France and Belgium (Annotated). Rueggisberg Press. 2010

[ii] Romanes G.J, 1904 Thoughts on Religion

[iii] Ibid, Loc.1641 & 1650

‘Thoughts on Religion’ can be acquired for free from Project Guttenburg here: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/16942

Images: Vernon Kellogg & George John Romanes

Relgion and Science Peter HarrisonPeter Harrison, the director of Queensland University’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, recent book, ‘The Territories of Science and Religion,’ counters the myth of a conflict between science and religion. Uncovering long hidden connections, Harrison concludes that the perceived conflict between science and religion involves a fabrication of historical facts. This work is best described as an in-depth treatise that locates the origins of the conflict myth, surveying concepts, categories, and the shifting definitions of religion and science.

Harrison states that when the information is more closely reviewed, any perceived hostile exchange is in fact contained within each respective sphere. Science was, and perhaps because of its very nature, is still in some ways at conflict within itself. For instance: the divide in the science community about “global warming”. Therefore an historical war between religion and science, or the Church and the Enlightened, as the popular assumption goes, did not exist.

Correcting the often used polemic against religion, Harrison invokes the Galileo controversy, arguing that any perception of a conflict between science and Christianity, at that time, ignores the differing and predominant scientific views of the day. This along with other similar examples that Harrison provides, gives clear evidence of a conflict myth that is being pushed forward by a ‘distortion of historical and conceptual contexts which are projected back over history.’ (p.172)

Harrison’s points are strong. Working his way up through Greek antiquity to modern liberalism, he shows that the conflict between science and Christianity was invented. This invented narrative maintains the perceived supremacy of science by painting religion, in particular Christianity, as the antagonist. Harrison suggests that this is not without agenda. Science is always in flux, for it to stay a unified boxed up entity, a crisis is needed. This crisis unites the populace, conscripting them in a stand against a perceived common enemy, hence the need for a conflict between science and religion.

‘The modern moral program is fed by an ersatz eschatology which points to environmental crisis, demanding repentance and contrition […]This is connected to there being a need for science to have a unifying narrative with some kind of moral or aesthetic vision to promote its relevance to the public’ (p.179)

As for progress and the progressive, those who invalidate Christianity tend to validate the science vs. religion conflict, deploying an easy to sell utilitarianism. As first espoused by Thomas Huxley and later Social Darwinism, science, it is claimed, is the only sure answer; the only certain way to manage vice, ensure freedom, progress, purpose, meaning and moral development. By way of selling a concentrated narrative of material solutions to the human condition, science and all that is squeezed into this modern narrow definition of it, is forced to dismiss its own origins. As a result it is cut off from its historical connection with philosophy and theology.

Harrison’s argument here flows well because of the way in which he unpacks the dialogue from the mid-19th Century up until now. This enables him to connect the presumed conflict between science and religion with evidence to support the conclusion, that this presumed conflict is built on a dubious distortion of context, concept and category. This includes the modern liberal fusion of science to progress and it’s all encompassing, go-it-alone, promise to bring about the general betterment of all humanity. Something Harrison suggests is in need of honest critique:

‘The generally considered neutrality of the public space of Modern Liberalism, where no single religious tradition is favoured, needs to be brought into question. This is because Modern liberalism [as opposed to classical liberalism] might be thought of more along the lines of a competing ideology or religion, asserting its own supremacy at the cost of other traditions.’ (p.190)

The problem, as Harrison outlines, is that progress implies the teleological. Meaning and purpose has to fit in somewhere because for progress to be progress it must have an end or a goal to move towards, otherwise it’s simply just change. Science has its own limitations and vices. That the modern progressive pushes to disallow room for taking the theological or philosophical seriously, means that the current concept of progress is without any real direction.

‘There is something inherently unstable in the modern understanding of progress. Progress had once been thought of as the movement of human beings toward certain given ends. But without at least an implicit teleology (which was precisely what the new natural philosophical approaches sought to dispense with) the notion of progress is difficult to sustain. Progress, in other words, is goal dependent; progress is toward some end. Without goals, progress is just change.’ (pp. 143-144)

Harrison moves through a chronology of historical facts,  identifying influential events and key historical players. Such as the significant role natural theology and natural philosophy played in the development of natural science from the early modern period. Starting with Aristotle, Harrison works his train of thought up through to Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and then John Locke. Stating that the conceptual context of natural theology for Augustine and Aquinas is vastly different to that of the natural theology of early modernity.

The redefining not just of the roles, but the concepts of natural philosophy and natural theology accompanied the newly created, one-size-fits-all categories of religion and science. The latter groupings were no longer aligned with the valuable theological virtues of religio and the ‘complimentary role’ (p.133) of the intellectual virtue of scientia. Faith seeking understanding was gradually replaced with the fabrication that faith is historically hostile to understanding.

In sum, ‘The Territories of Science and Religion’ is a well stated counterpoint to the long-held assumption that science and Christianity are inherently at odds. I am in agreement with Harrison’s conclusions. His overview of the changing concepts of religion and science, which encompassed the redefining of religio and scientia are a clear highlight. Another standout is in how Harrison illustrates the slow transformation and later dismissal of pre-enlightenment natural theology and natural philosophy for the new categories of science and religion.

Of importance is the light Harrison shines on the instability of the ‘modern moral program’ (p.179), which employs the perceived conflict between science and religion in order to sustain superiority. To do this modern liberalism, new atheism and even creation scientists focus on selling science, marketing the obvious benefits of science to suit a particular agenda. Rather than taking up an ancient fight against religion, they instead create a conflict where historically one did not exist.

For new atheism and modern liberalism this is achieved through perpetuating confusion about categories, concepts and definition. Through a fabricated narrative and distortion of historical events the supposed superiority of modern liberal constructs is bolstered. The aim to control what is labelled religion and what is labelled science, a success. Controlling the role of science to demonise, and undermine the legitimate and historical role of theology and philosophy.

The value of ‘The Territories of Science and Religion’  is that Harrison counters this. While maintaining that clear boundaries exist between natural science, and the science of theology and philosophy, Harrison opens up an in depth enquiry into the conflict myth. In turn encouraging a review of popular assumptions about a perceived conflict because historically, it was in fact a complimentary relationship, dominated by civility and discourse, not vitriol and conflict.


Source:

Harrison, P. 2015 The Territories of Science And Religion, The University of Chicago Press, Kindle Ed.

Related post:

Despite Popular Opinion The Historical Conflict Between Christianity & Science Is a Myth

Writing seven years after the date of the excerpt below, Vernon Kellogg in an article for ‘The Atlantic’, wrote a response to William Jennings Bryan’s stand against evolution. Something made famous by The Scopes Trial in 1925.

Kellogg’s 1924 essay was entitled ‘The Modern View of Evolution‘. In it Kellogg, a biologist, writes from a position that understands the importance of making a distinction between ‘Social Darwinism’ and ‘Darwinian Evolutionary Theory’. For an excellent summary of Bryan’s views after the Scopes Trial was closed, I recommend checking out ‘The Last Message of William Jennings Bryan’.

Bryan points to the same distinction in his concerns about evolutionary theory. However his overall argument becomes generalised, which overshadows his points. In my view, outside this, his closing statement is outstanding.

The excerpt below is from Kellogg’s assessment of the impact of scientism, something that pushed him beyond pacifism. As a result he became an advocate for the just resistance against such views. Scientism is defined as an ‘exaggerated trust in the efficacy of  science‘ (Merriam-Webster).

Although I am not yet in complete agreement with the narrator when he suggests that Darwin later succumbed to Social Darwinism/Scientific Socialism.The video attached is legit and worth watching.

The historical value here is found in its contemporary relevance as an indictment against scientism and totalitarianism.

Theology remains a necessary critique (Barth) and this seems to back that up.

To Whom It May Concern,
Vernon L Kellogg‘One by one any German would give up, in all matters in which he acted as a part of the German administration, all of the thinking, all of the feeling, all of the conscience which might be characteristic of him as an individual, a free man, a separate soul made sacred by the touch of the Creator.
And he did this to accept the control and standards of an impersonal, intangible, inhuman, great cold fabric made of logic and casuistry and utter, utter cruelty, called the State — or often, for purposes of deception, the Fatherland.
There is fatherland in Germany, but it is not the German State. It is German soil and German ancestry, but not the horrible, depersonalized, super-organic state machine, built and managed by a few ego-maniacs of incredible selfishness and of utter callousness to the sufferings, bodily and mental, of their own as well as any other people in their range of contact.
But this machine is a Frankenstein that will turn on its own creators and work their destruction, together with its own.
Such sacrifice and degradation of human personality as national control by such a machine requires, can have no permanence in a world moving certainly, even if hesitatingly and deviously, toward individualism and the recognition of personal values…
…Well, I say it dispassionately but with conviction: if I understand theirs, it is a point of view that will never allow any land or people controlled by it to exist peacefully by the side of a people governed by our point of view.
For their point of view does not permit of a live-and-let-live kind of carrying on. It is a point of view that justifies itself by a whole-hearted acceptance of the worst of Neo (social) Darwinism, the omnipotence of natural selection applied rigorously to human life and society and culture.
The creed of the All-macht (omnipotent power) of natural selection based on violent and fatal competitive struggle is the gospel of the German intellectuals; all else is illusion and anathema.
The assumption among them is that the Germans are the chosen race (the Ubermensch), and German social and political organisation the chosen type of human community life, and you have a wall of logic and conviction that you can break your head against but can never shatter – by headwork.You long for the muscles of Samson…
Here the pale ascetic intellectual and the burly, red-faced butcher meet on common ground here. And they wonder why the world comes together to resist this philosophy – and this butcher- to the death!
Any people who have dedicated itself to the philosophy and practice of war as a means of human advancement is put into a position of impotence to indulge its belief at will.
My conviction is that Germany is such a people, and that it can be put to this position only by the result of war itself. It knows no other argument and it will accept no other decision[i]. ’
Vernon Kellogg, 1917 
(Biologist and Director of The Commission for the relief of Belgium 1915-1916)

 

Sources:

[i] Kellogg, V.L. 1917 Headquarters Nights: A Record of Conversations and Experiences at the Headquarters of the German Army in France and Belgium (Annotated) (Loc. 459-460). Rueggisberg Press. 2010 Kindle Ed.

Image: Vernon Lyman Kellogg Wikipedia

#Lestweforget